Author's note: Put up and taken down to to an annoying logic error. My bad.
The girls were indeed a complication.
Yuzu had a bad case of pneumonia. That was what Urahara said, and Grimmjow was inclined to agree. He'd seen a few cases in the Division, usually after someone got a dunking in cold water in the middle of winter. Everyone had pulled through, but they were young and strong and had Rukia to help.
Yuzu was young but she wasn't strong, and the local apothecaries were no Rukia. Grimmjow grimaced as he watched Ichigo tuck another blanket around the young woman. She was as stick thin as her sister, her hair dry and breaking, her cheeks rosy with the fever.
"I'll go see if this place has any sponges and soup." He offered and Ichigo looked up with a nod. It was a trick they'd learned a while ago. Someone who was just a bit conscious would suck on a sponge, if it was placed between their lips. If she wasn't too far gone, Yuzu would still have that reflex. Swallowing afterwards came naturally, so they'd be able to get a bit of food in her.
"She still wakes up. She can eat." Karin said nervously and Grimmjow nodded. He had a feeling she'd be happier when he was out of the room. Well, he had come pretty close to killing her. He wasn't really holding a grudge at this point though. These poor kids had had it rough.
Leaving the room, he tended to business. The inn only had the stew they'd been fed, but after a bit of searching he found a place offering what they claimed was chicken soup. He insisted on trying a bit and the taste was good, so he got a nice big bowl of it to take back to Yuzu. They charged him extra for the bowl, which was annoying but expected. When he got back Urahara was there, preparing an herbal tea he'd gotten from the apothecary. They would have to hope it did some good.
"Oh… Karin…?" Yuzu roused with a moan as her sister shook her shoulder, and Grimmjow grinned. She hadn't woken up at all when Ichigo had carried her here, so he'd thought she was in really dire straights. Maybe he'd been mistaken. "What… where…?" She looked around in confusion and then her eyes went wide as she saw Ichigo. "Ichi-nii!" She tried to sit up but he rested a hand on her shoulder.
"It's alright Yuzu. I'm here now." He said comfortingly before taking the soup from Grimmjow. Yuzu managed to feed herself, although her hands were shaking. She paused her eating to give her brother a smile, and Grimmjow blinked at the warmth in it. It was like a ray of sunshine in the room.
"I knew you would come back for us Ichi-nii." She said quietly and Grimmjow winced to himself as Ichigo looked down. He knew how much that would hurt.
"I – I didn't remember you. I'm sorry Yuzu, I'm so sorry." His voice was husky and Grimmjow knelt down beside his boyfriend, putting an arm around his shoulders. Ichigo leaned against him, taking the comfort offered. "If I'd known I would have come sooner." Yuzu smiled again before eating more soup.
"It's okay Ichi. Karin couldn't remember you either, she said I was imagining things. But I knew you were real." She sounded so happy and Ichigo laughed a little as Karin scowled, crossing her arms over her chest.
"Well, you made him sound like a mythical creature." She groused. "Big, strong, powerful, amazing! I admit, he is pretty cool though." She said grudgingly. "Even if he is with the bluebell." Ichigo shot her a horrified look before glancing at Grimmjow, expecting some kind of explosion. But his lover just snorted.
"Bluebell? Not very creative, kid. You'll have to try harder than that to piss me off." Grimmjow met her glare with a lazy, catlike stare and Karin looked away first, muttering something under her breath. Urahara brought over the tea and gave Yuzu an examination as Ichigo watched anxiously.
"She's really doing quite well given her general condition." He said, but his usual good cheer was notably absent. "However, I estimate that it will take her a month to fully recover." Kisuke said and Ichigo bit his lip. "Ichigo, we just can't stay that long. We need to continue our mission."
"So get a really posh tent, some nice blankets and take her along." Grimmjow said and everyone stared at him. "A donkey too if we can afford one."
"Grimm! We can't drag a sick girl through the howling wilderness!" Ichigo said, horrified by the thought and Grimmjow shrugged.
"Then we're stayin' here for a month. We can't leave them, for fuck's sake." He pointed out and Ichigo stopped, looking sick. Karin was looking at him with a shocked expression. "Even if you and I bust heads all week there's no way we can leave enough respect to keep 'em safe while we're gone. Sure as shit, someone will rob them and then they'll both be turning tricks on street corners again." It was all so clear to him, what needed to be done. Ichigo's shoulders slumped as he thought it over, taking in the truth of the matter.
"You're right." He said before straightening his shoulders and looking at Urahara. "We're staying until she's better. The worlds have survived for two years, they'll make it another month." He said decisively and Grimmjow grinned, clapping him on the shoulder. He liked it when Ichigo took charge. Urahara sighed, then brightened slightly.
"Well, perhaps I can speed her recovery! Grimmjow-kun, would you like to go with me into the woods while I look for medicinal herbs? Ichigo-kun, you and Byakuya should stay with the two of them. This place is rather horrid." He said and Yuzu looked puzzled as Karin frowned.
"It seems nice to me…" She glanced over the room, which was pretty much clean and the blankets which didn't have much in the way of fleas. Actually, if there were any fleas they'd probably been brought in with the girls. Ichigo sighed.
"It might be the best this place has, but it's not as good as Santa Maria. That's the town Grimm and I come from. I wish you had ended up there… you would have had a better life." He said sadly and Grimmjow nodded. Even if Ichigo hadn't been there, they would have been better off. Santa Maria had an orphanage and the Division managed it. They frowned heavily on underage whores.
"Really? What was it like?" Yuzu asked and Grimmjow stood up, checking himself over quickly. He had his sword, his grappling hook and his water bottle. Although it was full of that horrible stuff the inn served, not honest water. Leaving the family to their reunion, he followed Urahara out.
They had stuff to do and it wouldn't wait.
Ichigo rubbed his eyes for a moment as he sat with his sisters.
As soon as he saw Karin, the memories had come back. Not all of them, and it was still very unclear, but it was like a bubble had been popped in his mind. That bubble had held his two sisters and now he knew them again. Karin had been a tomboy, very tough and independent. Yuzu had been the peaceful one, doing the cooking and trying to make the house a home. They had been like that because… because…
The thought slipped away from him and the harder he tried to grasp it, the quicker it vanished. He knew there was something painful but also very important at the end of that thought but he just couldn't find it. Finally giving up he looked at Karin.
"So what's the story with the bluebell, Ichi-nii?" She asked bluntly and Yuzu gasped.
"Karin! Please be nicer." She pleaded with her sister who scowled, sitting back and crossing her arms over her chest. "What's his name Ichigo? You seem to like him." Yuzu asked and Ichigo smiled. That was putting it mildly.
"His name is Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez. We met in Santa Maria when we both signed up for the Eleventh. It was funny… the first thing he did when he saw me was challenge me to an arm wrestling match. I lost of course." Ichigo wasn't ashamed to admit that. In terms of brute strength, Grimmjow had an edge over him. He had a slight edge in speed, though. "Then I bought him a drink, he bought me a drink and before you knew it we were roommates." It had all just come together. Grimmjow had needed someone to share the rent with and Ichigo had been new in town. It had clicked. "We could remember each other a little, and we started a friendly competition to see who could get more monster kills. Then one day, after a battle… he kissed me." Ichigo could still remember that moment. It had been a rough kiss, full of sharp teeth and blazing blue eyes. Karin looked a bit squicked out but Yuzu was staring at him in fascination. "After that, we just got together." It had all flowed naturally. Everything he did with Grimmjow seemed to be instinctive, natural.
"He makes you happy." Yuzu said with a smile as Karin looked away.
"He almost killed me." She grumbled and Yuzu blinked at her in surprise before giving Ichigo a questioning look. She wasn't horrified, though, and Ichigo felt a stab of sadness. The Yuzu he remembered would have been horrified by that.
"You did try to stab him in the back." He pointed out. And Grimm was right, that could very easily have killed him. Karin sighed and ran a hand through her hair. It was exactly the same length he remembered. In a lot of ways, the girls hadn't changed at all.
"Yeah, I guess. I just… that look on his face when he grabbed me. I was sure I was going to die, you know?" She said and Ichigo nodded sympathetically. He knew how vicious Grimmjow could be when he was pissed. Although his 'playful' moments could be even worse, for a real opponent.
"Well, just remember, he'll help me protect you. And no one's brave enough to stand up to him when he gives them his trademark psychotic grin." Ichigo said encouragingly and Karin managed a weak smile as Yuzu laughed softly.
"Yeah, I'll bet." Karin yawned before glancing at Yuzu. "Should we share a bed?" It was the bed Ichigo and Grimmjow had been using so it was plenty big enough. He nodded.
"Grimm and I will get a new room." It wasn't like they were attached to this one and the inn had plenty of rooms free. "Karin, do you think you could show me around the town later, after Grimm and Kisuke get back?" He wasn't sure where Byakuya had gotten to but he wasn't around, and Ichigo was not going to leave Yuzu alone. Karin nodded.
"Sure Ichi-nii. Right now though, I'm going to have a nap." She said and taking his cue, Ichigo left the room. He went down to arrange another with the innkeeper, smiling sadly to himself as he thought of his sisters. He was glad he'd found them again but he couldn't help the painful guilt that racked him as he thought of their circumstances. Why hadn't he remembered them sooner? Running a hand over his face, then through his hair, he tried to force the feeling away. Grimmjow was right. It wasn't his fault.
It was hard not to feel that way, though.
"Grimm, you're back! …What happened?" Ichigo said in surprise as he looked at Urahara. The shopkeeper was sporting a rather impressive black eye. Grimmjow grinned nastily as he remembered.
"Someone asked me what I thought of a bunch of herbs. When I bent over to look, he felt up my ass." Grimmjow said and Ichigo's surprise turned into anger. He gave Kisuke a nasty look and the shopkeeper tried to look innocent. "So I decked him. All taken care of." He didn't need Ichigo to protect his rather dubious virtue.
"It was a misunderstanding! I tripped and my hand went the wrong place." Urahara protested and got skeptical looks from them both. "Why does no one believe me?"
"Because we know you. If you're that hard up, go find a whore." Ichigo retorted, then thought better of it. "Actually, don't, you'll catch some horrible disease." Kisuke nodded mournfully as he took a seat.
"Just rub one out." Grimmjow said with a grin before looking around. Sensing the presence of customers, one of the barmaids came over to see if they wanted anything. He placed an order for food and drink as Kisuke sighed.
"I've been doing that for two whole years. My left arm is getting overdeveloped. I really don't suppose the two of you would…?" He gave them a pathetic look and Ichigo didn't have to think twice.
"No way." He said firmly. They'd never brought anyone else into their relationship before and he didn't want to start now. And he felt zero attraction to the shopkeeper. Grimmjow nodded. "Now that you guys are back, can you watch over Yuzu for me? I want to go check out the place with Karin and Byakuya hasn't come back yet." That was a little odd but he wasn't worried. Kisuke and Byakuya were both fearsome fighters, he'd seen it on the way there. Kisuke nodded.
"He's looking for any survivors from the Gotei 13 and his family. He was so happy to see the new Eleventh, you know." He said and Ichigo blinked. He honestly hadn't noticed any happiness but Byakuya was hard to read.
"Mind if I come too? Yuzu doesn't need more than one watcher." Grimmjow asked and Ichigo nodded.
"Sure, I'd like to have you at my back." Karin might not be as thrilled but his sister and Grimmjow needed to get past their rough meeting. And Grimm was already past it, really. Ichigo could tell that only Karin was holding a bit of a grudge. He waited patiently as Grimmjow inhaled his stew, and then they were ready to go.
Karin's tour of the town revealed that it was rather large, bigger than Santa Maria. It was very badly run but no one dared complain, and she quietly explained why.
"The tyrant doesn't take any shit, Ichi." She said and Ichigo grimaced. "He's… no one knows exactly what he is, they say he's half monster. He's eaten people who pissed him off." She shivered and Ichigo and Grimmjow exchanged a glance. They lived to kill monsters. But…
"Ain't no point. If we killed him and didn't stay, there'd be something just as bad in place tomorrow." Grimmjow said and Ichigo sighed before nodding. That was exactly what he'd been thinking. Yumichika and Ikkaku had killed off a few bully boys when they'd turned Santa Maria from a refugee camp into a real town, from what he'd heard. Unless they were going to stay and make a proper job of fixing this place there was just no point. Karin gave them both a wide eyed look.
"You seriously think you could kill the tyrant?" She said, perhaps a little too loudly as someone hurried away. Grimmjow laughed, not giving a crap who heard him.
"Together, we can kill anything!" Ichigo smiled as a hand slapped down on his shoulder. He turned his head to look into Grimmjow's face, enjoying his wicked grin and the fire in blue eyes. "We've taken out giants, you know. So far he's got two kills, I've got one and we've got three we're sharing." Sharing meant they had worked together to bring the enemy down. Giants often took a lot of killing and using one person as a distraction while the other got in a killing blow was a preferred tactic.
"The other three kills are shared too, technically. I'm sharing one with Yumi and the other with Hannes." Ichigo said and Grimmjow nodded.
"True, I'm sharing mine with Ikkaku. It's always a group effort." He said, cleaning out his era with a pinky finger as he looked around. Then he grimaced as he saw a stretch of the wall. It was looking particularly battered in this area, clearly patched recently. "Who the fuck built this piece of shit and why aren't they hanging from the nearest lamppost?" He demanded and Karin shrugged.
"I don't think anyone really built it. People just… try to put it back together, when something gets through." She said and they exchanged a look. That wasn't good at all. "What do you think it should look like?" She asked and Ichigo answered.
"It should be stone, and at least a foot thick, more if you can manage it. The walls around Santa Maria are about three feet thick." He said and Grimmjow nodded. They'd both been involved in building and repairing those walls. They might not be masons but they knew the basics. "That kind of wall will defeat a giant. They mostly don't come by anymore." At first, giants had gone through the fields in an effort to enter the town and the Division had killed them. But over time they'd stopped showing up. Now they were mostly encountered in the forest around the mine, which was lighter than where the logging happened. Giants were big enough that they disliked heavy forests.
"That sounds like the inner walls." Karin said and Ichigo blinked in surprise as Grimmjow grunted.
"Let me guess. The good part of town has separate walls?" He said sourly and Ichigo winced. That was the sort of thing Grimm would expect, he was very cynical about human nature. Karin nodded. "Figures. Can we go take a look?"
"Sure, if we don't get too close." Karin sounded a little nervous at the prospect and Ichigo scowled to himself, his mood darkening. This place was just… he didn't have words for it. Santa Maria wasn't perfect, it was a military dictatorship in a lot of ways, but they didn't leave the poor people behind crappy walls while protecting the rich.
"This place is big, isn't it?" Grimmjow muttered as they walked and Ichigo nodded. He'd noticed that as well.
"About twice as big as Santa Maria." That would make running this place more difficult, but hardly insurmountable. Santa Maria wasn't exactly big, so this place wasn't huge either. "I really wish we could stay and beat this place into shape." He said with a sigh and Grimmjow shrugged.
"Can't kill all the starfish in the sea." He said and Ichigo smiled. That was a reversal of the original saying, one the oyster farmers had come up with. They hated starfish, they were predators of helpless, immobile oysters. "Hey, look at that shit – ow!" Grimmjow winced as Ichigo slapped up upside the head.
"Pull your tongue back in. Although it is impressive." He grudgingly admitted, glancing over the whorehouse as Karin sniggered. The girls hanging around on the balconies, partly undressed, made it clear what the building was for. They were quite attractive, too, and one of them had lovely butterfly wings. That sort of thing was rare but not unknown and Kisuke said it was a sign of an unbroken hollow that had made the leap to a human like form. Arrancar usually became completely human, but unbroken adjuchas and vasto lorde were different. Ichigo paused to admire them. They were dappled with rainbow colors, reminding him of a soap bubble. Then he winced as Grimmjow slapped him on the shoulder.
"Yeah, you pull your tongue in too. We going?" He said with a grin and Ichigo smiled before shoving his shoulder against his lover. Grimmjow returned the affection and they started off again.
It didn't take too long to reach the inner wall and Ichigo looked it over with a frown. It was better than the outer wall, made of strong stone, but it was too short. One of the taller giants could possibly go over it. It didn't look thick enough, either. It was manned by guards who were definitely a cut above the idiots looking after the wooden walls, though. They gave them narrow eyed looks and one hefted a crossbow. Grimmjow just put his hands on his hips and grinned up at them with his usual, psychotic grin. There was a hissed warning and the fellow lowered the crossbow a touch.
"They can tell you're insane, you can stop now." Ichigo said and Grimmjow shrugged, glancing away as though he'd lost interest. "I take it we can't go inside?" He asked Karin who nodded nervously.
"No. They keep out any undesirables." She said and they both nodded before moving on. Karin's stomach growled and they looked around for a bit before stopping at a street vendor selling sausages.
"And cook them good." Grimmjow growled as the man turned the little sausages over his bed of coals. "I don't want to catch any shit." The sausage vendor nodded, completely unperturbed, and the sausages they got were so well done they were black on the outside. Ichigo didn't mind a bit. Better a bit of char than some horrible illness.
As they ate Ichigo just leaned against a wall, watching the crowds go by. The more he looked, the less he liked this place. It was filthy, the people were starving and the people in charge didn't care. It went against every instinct he owned to just leave them like this. But what choice did he have? He needed to save the three worlds.
He was still thinking about that when there was a loud crack, the sound of tearing lumber. Grimmjow wolfed down his sausage before pulling out his sword and Ichigo followed his lead, swallowing what was left of his whole. It scraped unpleasantly going down and he grimaced before drawing his weapon.
"That was the wall. Come on, we're close to the inner wall, we can get away easily!" Karin said urgently and Ichigo scowled as Grimmjow shook his head.
"Run? What kind of pussies do we look like? C'mon Ichi, let's take care of this shit. You stay close girl!" He said and Ichigo nodded. Close to them was probably the safest place for Karin. They could keep an eye on her and kill anything that tried for her.
When they found it, the breach was bad. A giant had busted through and was doing massive damage. Ichigo grimaced as it grabbed a screaming woman and bit her in half. Blood sprayed everywhere, along with guts and other things, but he paid it no mind. He'd seen worse in his day.
"Grimm, you play distraction. I'll kill it." He said, cool as a cucumber and Grimmjow nodded, flying into action as his grappling hook shot out. This was where Ichigo shone and he didn't, so he was more than willing to take his lover's instructions.
It went very well. The distraction lasted a while, because it had to. A basic getsuga tenshou was easy for Ichigo to fire off, and it could devastate a bone fiend. But to take out a giant he needed to muster his power and release it all in one burst. Grimmjow had a completely different method of making giant kills. When he did it, he generally used a very careful targeted lacerate or if he was near something tall enough, he used his grappling hook and flying ability to reach the giant's neck. A single slash on the right spot would bleed them out in short order.
Now, though, Grimmjow was dancing through the air and just slashing any part he could reach. The giant roared and lumbered after him, infuriated and too stupid to notice the dangerous flare of black and red building on the ground. Ichigo grimaced as Grimmjow just barely dodged a huge fist, the rush of air making his brown leather jacket fly in the wind. He needed just a bit longer…
"GETSUGA TENSHOU!" The blast of black and red hit the giant like a slice of heaven. It was neatly sliced into two and Grimmjow swore as he dodged one of the halves, barely avoiding being flattened. Then he dropped to the ground as Ichigo looked around alertly for more intruders. There was nothing, but that was no surprise. None of the other monsters liked being around a giant.
However, there were a lot of people looking at them in awe. Grimmjow grimaced, realizing they were the center of attention. Then something occurred to him and he grinned wickedly.
"HEY! If you fuckers are going to stand there staring, you can get to work!" He barked at the gawkers and there was mass confusion. "You see that busted wall? Fix it you fuckers! Now!" His roar was impressive and many people took off, not wanting to deal with him or manual labor. Some people actually started towards the wall, which pleased him. A hand fell on his shoulder and Grimmjow looked to meet brown eyes and a friendly smile.
"Good work on the distraction." Ichigo complimented him and Grimmjow preened a little before returning the sentiment.
"Great job on that getsuga, you cut it in half like nothin'." That really had been a good one. "So should we head back to the inn? It's getting late." They'd been walking a long time. If they started back now they might get back before the sun set. Ichigo nodded, squeezing his shoulder before letting go.
"Yeah, let's go. Karin?" They both turned to the girl and Grimmjow was surprised to see that she was looking at them with something like shock on her face. Hadn't she known what her brother was capable of? "Karin?" Ichigo sounded worried now and she blinked before shaking her head.
"Wow, Ichi-nii, that was… I see why you think you could take on the tyrant." She said and Grimmjow grinned. "And that stuff you did in the air… how'd you do that?" She asked him and the blue man shrugged as they started to walk.
"I can fly a little. Combine it with my grappling hook and I'm an air dancer." He said proudly. "It took a while to master." He'd flown into buildings quite a few times before he'd gotten the hang of it. His nose had gotten the brunt of that, with several bad nosebleeds and one break. Fortunately it had healed nice and straight or he wouldn't be nearly as pretty.
"I can imagine…" Karin shook her head, still a bit awed, and Ichigo smiled as he saw that Grimmjow was eating it up. The blue man would never admit it, but he loved having admirers. Not of his looks or even his sexual prowess, but of his skill on the battlefield. That was what he had pride in, the thing that defined him the most. It might be a little psychotic but that was Grimmjow.
And Ichigo wouldn't have it any other way.